Which is Worse – Death or Divorce?

I have never been a widow. I can only imagine it is terrible, and that depending upon the circumstances – time to prepare, or sudden loss – it is more or less “manageable” to survive the slow process of rebuilding a life.

I have never suffered viewing the remains of a loved one, though I have lost both parents, and was involved (to varying degrees) in the necessary steps that followed.

But I have been through divorce – a bad one – with tentacles that have tightened around every area of my adult life since the time the marriage split apart.

With active tentacles that continue to do damage, a decade later.

When a Marriage Ends

The death of a spouse and divorce from a spouse both involve grieving. In the former we may grieve the lost loved one, ourselves as partner, our identity within the institution of marriage. I’m certain I am oversimplifying, and it isn’t my intention. As I said, I have not experienced it.

In the case of divorce, I nonetheless believe we grieve differently, or perhaps our grieving takes a different turn and term; we grieve our illusions, we kick ourselves for turning a blind eye; we relive matrimonial death – and our role in it – over and over again.

We don’t know what lies ahead.

Legal nightmares.


And of course, there is the possibility of a financial drain that narrows our lives for years, rendering every aspect of “getting through” hard. Very hard. None of this is to say that death leaves the remaining spouse well off; there may be medical bills, no life insurance, a pile of debts, no means to generate income, and a host of logistical problems.

Still, while individual circumstances are enormously important in terms of putting pieces of our lives back together, I do wonder which is worse – death, or divorce. And I wonder why we seem to show so much more compassion when it comes to widows and widowers than for those who divorce.

Bruce, of Privilege of Parenting, was kind enough to point me to the Washington Post, a particular piece of writing describing divorce as a sort of death.

Read it.

Or should I say – read it and weep.

Citing from Rabbi David Wolpe’s post, from his own former wife Eileen’s words to a friend:

“Divorce is a hard path, a long, circuitous journey that is not something you can control… and your married friends look at you like you have leprosy.  It threatens their world view for you to divorce.  It threatens their marriage…  everything changes.  In ways you can’t imagine or anticipate.  Everything.  Everything.  Everything.”

Eileen Ansel Wolpe goes on to say that divorce is:

“… the destruction of together-dreams, forever-dreams, family-dreams, love-dreams.  You cannot leave a marriage without doing violence to all those things, no matter how amicable the divorce.”

This is not the emotional terrain of everyone, yet I find these words to be a spot-on depiction of how many of us experience the subtle (and not so subtle) ostracizing, the ways in which we must find new footing we never anticipated, and the surprise – over and over again – at the losses that keep coming.

And this column doesn’t broach the issues of post-divorce parenting, nor money problems, nor situations in which background warfare is waged – something that many of us experience – and many of you – like our families, like our friends – prefer to pretend does not exist.

This is not about victimhood. This is not about judgment. This is not about one-size-fits-all when a marriage ends, or needs to end. But this is about the breadth and depth of that experience.

About grieving, yes. A sort of death, yes. But very much in a different context.

Divorce vs. Widowhood

Why would we want to set widowhood and divorce side by side, anyway? Perhaps it’s apples to oranges. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that it is – one might assume a greater intimate connection at the time of being widowed (and thus a more staggering loss), while divorce is presumably taking place because the relationship has so deteriorated as to be finished.

But those are assumptions.

Both widowhood and divorce involve the loss of a spouse, the end of a marriage, and the death of all those interrelated dreams of the future,  though the circumstances, generally speaking, are dramatically different.

Still, they both involve loss. Life-altering loss – assumed when death is involved, and dismissed or “accepted” not only as more common but with judgment and blame when speaking of divorce. Grieving will always be complex; when a loved one passes away, there are scars and issues to be dealt with. There are repercussions with children, messy financial dealings, and the many “stages of grief” which have been dissected for decades.

But divorce?

For some, it’s a period of sorrow, of confusion, of embarrassment. There are new skills to acquire, a new sense of self to discover, the need to make your way differently – in terms of job, socializing, parenting, finance. There are issues (for women) over name and name changes.  How much more to the heart and bone of identity can you get?

There is often a desire to hide from self-truths (explaining rapid remarriage for some?). But socially, culturally, and in terms of support systems – when a divorce “goes bad” – the hits keep coming.

There is no grieving cycle followed by the light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel keeps lengthening. The light remains out of grasp.

Loss – The Great Leveler

I won’t pretend to know what it’s like for those who lose spouses to war, to violence, to accident, or to long illnesses. I have experienced the death of both parents – one, suddenly, and when he was all too young, and the other – equally suddenly, but she was older. The experience of losing parents as an adult is not comparable to losing them as a child; nor is it comparable to losing a spouse, and I know that.

Still, I think of the handful of widows and widowers I’ve known. Within a year or so of being on their own, friends began introducing them to other single people. Family and friends approached, extended help, nurtured – dealing with them in caring ways. Are those behaviors exceptions? Are they the norms?

I don’t know.

My own divorce offers a very different scenario. One of withdrawal by friends and placing blame, one of growing isolation, one of constant interference in efforts to re-establish a recognizable “life.” What I have been able to do is find a core of steel in my self – and great faith in my ability to love and protect as a parent, to hang on to love as a woman, and to move forward – no matter what life dishes out.

Does it make any sense to ask if death of a spouse is worse than divorce, or vice versa? Is it worse if divorce is unilateral? Is it only worse in exceptional circumstances?

Maybe divorce is generally not worse than losing a spouse. Both involve grieving to some degree, and practical adjustments that span varied timeframes. But the words referenced above present a striking reminder of the death-like impacts of the end of a marriage, suggesting (to me) that divorce in many cases ought to be considered the “exit” of last resort – neither dismissed nor taken lightly.

And those who pass through its doors, met with compassion.


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  1. says

    My marriage ended long before the legal divorce, so my personal divorce experience was quite different — a relief to have it legal and to be legally free. There was confusion, discouragement and surprise during the lengthy “marriage ending” period that might be considered comparable. In a sense, we were divorcing (and divorced) during the “bad marriage” period. All cases differ, as you point out.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Yes, a very different situation, Paul. And your first marriage had its own twists and turns, as you’ve pointed out. All the more reason for us to be compassionate with each other – not knowing what someone may have lived in marriage, much less its end, or its aftermath.

  2. Blancmange says

    I have been widowed for almost four years. There was a lot of support initially from friends and family, but that has dwindled to nothing in the last two years.
    If you know a widow or widower who has had introductions to available single people, then they are very lucky! I am avoided as if I have the plague. My neighbors turn away from me in the grocery store when they see me. My divorced neighbors are treated differently, socialized with on a regular basis. There are two other widowed people in my neighborhood that I know of and they are treated the same as I am from what I can see. They give more to the widower because he was left with three children and I suppose that engenders more pity than me with my two teenaged boys.
    The major difference is that our grief is never ending and our circumstances were forced upon us. When a marriage ends due to divorce, there is always the possibility (no matter how small) that reuniting could happen simply by virtue of the person’s existence on this planet. Logistically it may not be possible or even probable, but the person is still HERE. Our spouses are DEAD and will never come back, ever. The best we can hope for is someone who understands that the death has not ended the relationship and does not diminish the potential for new relationships. If anything, we completely understand the meaning of the phrase “til death do us part.” Oh way too well!
    Raising children with a deceased spouse is no fun either. At least when one is divorced, very often the ex is available to provide some kind of economic or social support. The dead guy is not so good at either.
    Both death and divorce suck and neither is desirable. But do not think for one minute that being widowed is somehow better, unless you are comfortable with grief that follows you to your own grave.
    Just my two cents from the other side of the fence.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Blancmange – happy you joined the conversation and brought the perspective from the other side of the fence. It is very much appreciated. As usual, individual circumstances certainly come into play. Perhaps for some of us (upon whom divorce was forced, and supporting those children is not a given), we will carry rage (or outrage?) to the grave, rather than grief. I wish there were something better – for all of us.

    • Alannah says

      I am widowed four years and still experience the loneliness and the missing of my husband although I have created many good things in my life. Only recently I hear from my friends who are divorced how much they have been impacted by the ending of their marriages. How new friends and new potential lovers want to know how many times they have been married…how they feel stigmatized. Well we are both stigmatized but differently…widows and divorcees…and just being single is still a stigma in and of itself…We live in a shallow society and we have to have great courage to love ourselves and to feel blessed that we have a life to live…our loved one does not have that privilege. It is very hard at times…but it beats the alternative…and we have an opportunity to make a difference if we so choose.

  3. says

    Funny, I read and tweeted that article by Rabbi Wolpe this morning. Yes, divorce is like a death and though most people do not truly wish their estranged or former spouse dead, in many way things would have been easier had that person died. But it sounds so callous to say that—probably especially callous to widows and widowers who know what it is like.

    Death is so final. But it is also usually without shame, blame and guilt. The loneliness after death is felt after divorce; the financial difficulties and single parenthood are also shared experiences. Though when a former spouse is in the picture there may be custody battles and lawyer fees to add to the expenses. But for many, divorce is a rejection that death is not. Eighty percent of divorces filed are unilateral; one partner does not want a divorce. That’s rejection. There’s probably a statistic somewhere—but I don’t have it—but I some have said that if a man doesn’t leave unless he’s got someone else to go to; bigger rejection.

    With death you don’t get to see your beloved ever again. That’s hard. With divorce you may wish you never had to see him or her again. Which is worse? That’s subjective and different for each situation.

    “The Longevity Project” has something to say about that. I have not yet read the book and just picked it up from the library—because I saw references to it. So I’m flipping to chapter 7 “Parental Divorce.” This project started in 1921 and tracked 1500 Americans from childhood to death—and is continuing still. An immense amount of data was collected and is still being interpreted.

    So how did the death of a parent affect a person versus parental divorce—before the age of 21? They found that the death of a parent had “no measurable impact on life-span mortality risk.” But the health risks of parental divorce were devastating. “Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families… Parental divorce was during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death. (page 80)

    Now, of course divorce was not as common and carried a stigma that has lessened or even disappeared. So what is it’s affect for children today? Is it still worse than the death of a parent?
    Something to think about.

    And yet as Blancmange said “When a marriage ends due to divorce, there is always the possibility (no matter how small) that reuniting could happen simply by virtue of the person’s existence on this planet.” I completely agree. My husband filed and later stopped the process; we are together and for that I am so blessed. And I use that as leverage when I support spouses who Stand for their marriages. If their spouse were dead there would be no Stand. I don’t think being widowed is better for exactly the reasons she gave.

    The emotional damage of divorce versus death is subjective. The Longevity Project measured life-span for parental divorce. I wonder how the lifespan measures when it was their own marriage/divorce.

  4. says

    I sympathize for blancmange and the situation that she describes. Those widowed at a relatively early age can be in a particularly tough position. First, people are often uncomfortable talking about death and the feelings that go with it (unlike talking about divorce). Second, for some unknown reason, this is somehow treated like it might be communicable. Person may be treated as a harbinger of bad luck and misfortune. Keep away. Third, when the widow(er) might be ready for dating, potential partners wonder if they will be facing the ghost of the deceased in their dating. It feels more awkward (I hate to use that word, but can’t think of a better off hand) than divorce, in any case. With all this plus whatever I’ve missed (I haven’t even mentioned the effect of whatever might have been the circumstances of death), I suspect it goes easier (on average) with those who are in the more familiar situation of divorce.

  5. says

    I can’t really speak to either of these as I have not experienced the death of a spouse or divorce. But I know those who have suffered through both experiences. Pain is pain. Regardless of the cause. There is emotional healing needed in both circumstances. I’ve seen both the widow(er) and divorcee face the loneliness of being thrust into a different social standing. I would encourage everyone to reach out and try and lessen the pain for these people. Be a friend, offer condolences and stick around to help pick up the pieces.

  6. says

    I don’t know. I think both death and divorce have the same gamut of emotions. Both involve the loss of someone you love, or loved at one time. Both involve major changes in life styles. Both involve “what-ifs”. Both leave you as the proverbial “fifth wheel” in your group of friends. Either death or divorce could follow a prolonged period of fighting the happening or could happen suddenly, like a bolt of lightning. Either of them could bring devastation or relief. In either case, a single woman could be a perceived threat to married friends. Neither is a good thing, but both are part of life.

  7. says

    I am a single parent due to divorce. It has been 10 yrs. It has not become easier. There is always the safe assumption that, either through the law or desire of the other parent, support will always be given for the children left behind divorce. That isn’t always the case; and, more commonly than not, many custodial parents wind up bearing the brunt of everything from daily issues involving school to financial issues regarding care. I have been lucky in the sense that I haven’t worried about financial providing by my kids’ father in the form of child support. A lot, though, has changed over the past 10 yrs. and the amount of money has not. I have been very limited in advancing myself financially because of not having the money nor the time to pursue another or advanced degree to provide more financially for my children. And, after the 1st year and a half, the “novelty” of visitations began to wear off. Now, 10 yrs. later, I have my children 99% of the time. With no change in support, that means even less money to do with my children what is necessary to care for them. Yes, I could take him back to court. That costs money I don’t have.

    One other thing that isn’t mentioned in this bit of information: the biggest difference between the death of a spouse and the divorce from a spouse is that, if there are children involved, there is still a connection to the ex-spouse. With that connection comes seeing them have a life that isn’t with you, one that may seem, at least on the surface, to be better than the life with you was. And, that is painful to witness and to live with, forever. The “’til death do you part” in these circumstances is something that still exists when children are in the mix regardless of what a legal document states. That is a revisitation of pain over and over again. In some circumstances, too, when something is awry with the parental end of things, the act of forgiveness has to be replayed. Over and over again. There is never equitability in divorce because lives are still shifting with the new life established out of the old marriage.

    I’m not diminishing the pain of losing a spouse to death. How terrible to love someone and have them taken away without a choice on our parts! Love was, and this is an assumption, there, though, because a marriage still existed. Pain from loss of a spouse, I would imagine, over time, is filled with good memories. Pain from loss of a spouse through a divorce is usually riddled with bad ones.

  8. Zoe says

    Well said Tina! It’s been almost 4 years and every year it seems to get harder since the divorce. Not only did he remarry but now has a “new” family and I spend my time trying to compensate for my children’s heartbreak at being replaced every other week, as well as my own when they come home after being with in-laws that I once called family for 10 years. And yes, most days I wish he was dead! That way we could have some peace and she can know what it feels like to have her husband taken from her. I can and do sympathize with widows. I cannot imagine how devastating it is to lose your spouse so cruelly and quickly.

    But in the case of a divorcee- you no longer have to “respect” the other parent, you may raise your children with the knowledge that they will be raised with all your love and any heartbreak that befalls them is from society and not from their own flesh and blood. How liberating it would be to be able to make a decision that would to wherever you see fit instead of where a judge allows, you can see their school programs without worrying about running into him or in my case my son who will cry because he has to return with daddy and not stay with mommy, and the list goes on. being divorced with kids means basically- you don’t have many choices in raising your kids your way if there is an ex in the picture still.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      By the way, Zoe – not to get too clinical about this, but in considering the topic I chose not to go into the issue of those who are divorcing (or miserable in their marriages) who then lose a spouse. It certainly muddies the waters, doesn’t it?

      We tend to assume that those who have lost a spouse to death – perhaps because they haven’t divorced? – were “happily married.” Therefore, we assume profound grief. I know of one situation in which the couple was estranged and about to divorce when the husband passed away, which left the wife with a complex set of emotions, but saved her a messy and costly divorcing process. I know of another example of a divorced couple, long married, wherein the husband died only a few years following the divorce. The ex-wife grieved for several years, but then seemed to feel “lighter” – no longer having to carry the divorce stigma and wearing, instead, more of the widow’s weeds in her demeanor.

      Nothing about any of this is simple.

      • Diane L says

        Very true. I have a friend who had a husband who was cheating on her. He died suddenly of a heart attack, and she does not have to deal with the degradation of his behavior, and was able to keep her dignity as the widow. She writes all loving messages on her Facebook page now regarding her husband who passed away, can keep her family pictures up without judgement, and only a few people know the truth. She remains the dignified widow, and makes a point to let me know her situation is worse than mine (losing my husband to divorce). It is all horrible, but at least as a widow, you can move on with dignity and support of all community. I cannot even begin to imagine how horrible it is for someone who must get divorced, and has young children. It is the cruelest, and most horrible of all for both the “respectable” parent (assuming one of them is) and of course the poor children who must suffer the difficulties and pretend that it is all OK or even better than if their parents were together. I thank G-d every day I had great decent parents, and amazing daughters who support me 100%. Divorce is the worst – no question about it.

  9. Kristina says

    I was in the process of a divorce when my estranged husband attempted to murder me and then take his own life. He was successful and I survived. I had two young children at the time. I never felt loss for his death but my children certainly did and still do. I was able to move on and was remarried within two years. That marriage lasted almost 20 years and when I left 4 years ago, I was naive enough to think I was going to walk right into a new, wonderful relationship soon. While at the time, I was frustrated at not finding a partner right away, looking back I was not ready and not sure I am even now.

    But I did grieve hard over my lost marriage and allowed myself to do it. I loved the article in the Washington Post. It said everything I thought and expressed all that I felt. My best friend recently contemplated divorce. I told her to try to make it work. It is hard, for all the reasons stated by everyone else on this forum. My ex has remarried and started a new family at 53 years old and the fallout with our two kids has fallen on my shoulders.

    Would I do it again? Yes, because I have come so far and through so much that I have come out the other side a more complete and whole person. I am proud that I am able to support my kids, earned my masters and have cultivated friendships that are forever. I have not met a new partner and feel happy the way I am right now. I think it’s the best thing that happened to me.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for sharing your story, Kristina. I can’t imagine what sort of strength it took to get through what you have. When children depend on a parent, that does provide a sense of purpose that can be helpful.

      It sounds like you have done a remarkable job of putting yourself out there again and trusting, and raising your children. It even sounds as though you wouldn’t categorize your marriage of 20 years as a “failure,” which so many like to do when marriage ends, but possibly – as something that worked for many years?

      You have much to be proud of. Coming out the other side is no small task, under the best of circumstances.

  10. Ed Pacheco says

    I just went though a divorce. At the same time my ex wife and I went through the loss of a parent, her daughter, my aunt and uncle and my grandfather. The loss of our jobs, and our house. I was the weaker of the two. She was a good woman but we just didn’t get along. Afterwards. It is painful but I have to go on.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I can’t imagine how anyone could survive half of that, Ed, much less all of it. I don’t have to tell you how life events like death, major illness, and job loss can tear apart a marriage. Sometimes there’s nothing that can be done. But no one should have to go through so much, and I hope you and your ex-wife both have the support of friends or some other community.

  11. says

    Which is worse?

    Anybody consider that divorce is death? It is the certainly the end of life as you know it.

    Anybody think that death is preferable because it’s over for a reason outside of your control? With divorce, you know it has failed because, well, somebody has failed, you have failed and that failure is out there running around getting on with their life. With death, yes, you’ve reached the end but it’s through no fault of your own and through no betrayal of the other person.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, in divorce, there are no winners. Everybody loses. The husband loses; the wife loses; the children lose and family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and even the girl behind the counter at Starbucks loses. It is a disturbance in “The Force” and everybody feels it.

    Excuse me. I have to go lie down on my bed and curl up in the fetal position.

  12. Karen says

    I have suffered grief from divorce (my daughter’s father had an affair) and 5 years later cared for my husband at home until he took his last breath with cancer. I have been trying to process all. I have compounded grief & PTSD while working and caring for my now 11 year old daughter. Her father is continuing to provide support. Thank you for this site and discussion.
    I live in Australia and have found in both instances the way our society handles and supports someone experiencing grief is appalling. The ‘get busy and get over it’ advice from people infuriates me. This attitude to grief in Australia needs to change.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Karen, I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through. So much heartache. I hope you have supportive friends and family who can be there for you, and not so insistent on a specific timetable. Yes, the ‘get over it’ attitude needs to change. It’s not so simple. I also wonder about the so-called “stages of grief” and the fact that we don’t heal (or come to acceptance) in a linear fashion. At least, not in my experience.

  13. ScholarsRliars says

    I would like to thank the people who pointed out how serious death is. I lost my mom at age six. My dad remarried two years later. Ever so lucky a guy, to have TWO soulmates….most people are lucky anymore these days to even find ONE. Truth be told, my dad, a Taurus, got along better with my stepmom, who is a Capricorn. My mom was an Aries. Or should I say—IS an Aries. My mom is my mom and always will be my mom. My stepmom never will.

    To those scholars who say divorce is worse—-hats off to Blancmange for pointing out just how final death is. Had my parents divorced, there could have been the chance for me to see my mom and go live with her if things didn’t work out in the home I grew up in. But because she died, I had no other home to go to.

    Get it, scholars? Take it from the man who had the experience. I lived with a moody stepmom from age eight until I was in my early twenties. (I joined the Army and got out of the house) My dad took her side on everything. And even now he does. But….he’s 65 years old and probably better to just appease his younger wife rather than leave her. Because at his age, it’s highly unlikely any woman will find him appealing.

    Point is, he threw me, his only child, under the bus all because this younger 25 year-old woman (in 1979 when they married) had him by the collar.

    Had my mom not died, that would not have happened. God does some very strange things.

    Death is a very final, FINAL act, you divorce scholars! It is the absolute end to everything as one knows it. EVERYTHING!!! There is absolutely ZERO hope of ever reconnecting with the person who died. Only when God decides my time has come will I see my mother again. Had they divorced, I could have just ridden my bike, caught the bus, walked, driven, etc and seen my mom at her new home. But that wasn’t an option. I would have rather had my parents fought in court, and my mom and stepmom have screaming matches, than that fateful day in 1977 when I learned my mother wasn’t going to make it because a car rolled on top of her. That day was the beginning of the end.

  14. fern says

    Having been through both, divorce is much worse. With death it is a pain and sadness that never goes away. However, it remains the same. My late-love cannot come back and hurt me over and over again. He cannot threaten to take my children, threaten my life, insult me or hurt my children. My living ex can and has. My late-love is always missed, always thought of and spoken of often. Both are life changing, and I don’t believe for the better.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      To have been through both these terrible experiences – I’m so sorry, Fern.

      If we can do anything – even listen, please drop a line. There are many wonderful and wise men and women who drop by here.

  15. AA says

    I have just been through a divorce after a 4 year pseudo-separation brought on by a series of unfortunate events (we lived in a foreign country together, I was the victim of a violent crime, I had to leave, he did not support me in the way I needed, and this dragged on for far too long). Still, the divorce was the most amicable and mutual divorce possible (we already lived separate lives by this point, we do not have children, etc.), but I have never felt such grief and pain in my life as I have with the finality of the divorce. I have never been a widow, so I can’t possible contemplate whether that would have been worse, better, or the same. I DO have wonderfully supportive friends and family, though, and that makes all the difference in the world. All my true friends, whether married or single, have checked in on me, invited me to stay with them, called me, etc. I only hope I can do the same if/when my friends go through anything like this.

  16. Shouldn't Be Compared says

    To all those who are divorced and now happily re-married. Just think, when your husband dies it’ll be so much easier than the divorce you’ve already been through.

  17. Diane says

    I am about to begin divorce proceedings. My husband is a functional alcoholic, adulterer and a verbal abuser. We were married for almost 30 years, mostly because I did not want to deal with the horrors of divorce. My grown children have encouraged me to finally divorce this mentally ill person. I know I could never deal with divorce, but have agreed that if we all allow me the “dignity” of widowhood, I will survive. My children and I will never see or speak to this man again once the divorce is final. Widows are treated with dignity in our society. Divorced women are treated as less than decent. I have told very few people I am getting a divorce, and plan to tell only those I must inform. I have had to distance myself from most friends, as my husband must be mentally ill. Divorce for decent women is a huge death. Death of dignity, social status, finances, death of a family, death of all your dreams. There is no hope. I know that if my husband were to pass away, I would receive huge support from family and friends, could call on others to help me learn how to manage our home alone, and be included in the lives of friends and family. I am so uncomfortable with divorce, but know I must follow through. I will one day retire, move far away from anyone who knows me other than my beloved children and we all agree, I will grant myself the ultimate “gift” and one day hold my head up & tell anyone I meet that I am a widow.

    If I pass away before this time, that may be another type of blessing, I will no longer suffer the horrors of being divorced. Anyone who tells you divorce is not the most horrible thing that can happen, is either an adulterer, or mentally ill.

    Ok, had my say – now I will go back to all my nice married friends for a few more months, (just keep saying my husband is very busy at work) and enjoy my last days of being part of mainstream society – I will miss that so much.

  18. Katy says

    @Diane – I agree with you totally. Thank you for having the courage to say the truth as it is. You are absolutely right – divorce has far far more negative consequences than widowhood. It is a much more difficult and painful experience to go through. You have to deal with the loss of a partner, that partners rejection of you and public humiliation, sense of failure, the divorced partners abusive behaviour which often continues after the divorce with increased bitterness, all combined with a complete and utter lack of support or respect in society and the pressure to move on get over it and find someone better asap and most damaging of all is the hatred that you ex is ‘meant’ to be treated with – to continue to love and respect your ex spouse is complete taboo and unacceptable and it is this which makes it impossible to heal from a divorce but so much easier to cope with death as its still acceptable by society to love the deceased partner.

  19. Tessiewinkles says

    I was widowed two months ago, and have just come across this site. I am amazed at the idea that people can think divorce is worse than death. It seems to me that too many divorcees are worried about what other people think. It is not all about what society thinks of us at all. It is about our own feelings, grief and emotions. A much loved husband is suddenly gone, never to be around again, ever. How can that be better than someone who still lives and breathes, no matter what you think of them? It’s very sad to see how bitterness can affect our judgement.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Where the similarity may exist is that “a much loved husband is suddenly gone, never to be around again” – except – that much loved spouse has chosen to leave and then spends months or years intentionally inflicting pain or a Divorce Industry is advising him (or her) to do so.

      I am not saying its worse – I am not saying this is the way it happens in every case – but the grief and pain aren’t about society, they are about not only the departure of someone you loved and believed in, often without warning, but they are about the death of dreams. This is entirely about one’s own ongoing grief. There can be bitterness, yes, absolutely. Especially if you find yourself in perpetual battle afterwards, or crippling debt, or ostracized by family that was once yours.

      I am truly sorry for your loss, Tessiewinkles.

  20. Diane says

    Thank you for your understanding and support. I was recently divorced in February. I attended the court hearing dressed in black, since for me, this was the death of my husband. I came home from the courthouse, and opened the family bible. I listed his name on the page recording the deaths in our family.

    Once he has removed his belongings from our home, I will never see or speak to him again. He chose to be an adulterer, verbal abuser, and yes, a severe functional alcoholic. I protected his reputation for the past 10 years, offered him my love, support, encouragement and never said an unkind word against him. I was not in denial, I totally knew what he was doing, but knew living in a very difficult marriage was better than divorce.
    I did realize his alcoholism and adultery could lead to dangerous situations for both myself, and our grown daughters when they would visit, but I was too afraid, and ashamed to let anyone know what was going on (even a little) – so I stayed and dealt with things the best I could. My husband would have never filed for divorce, but just continued all the inappropriate behaviors.

    It took my daughters love and strength to promise to always treat me with the dignity of widowhood that finally gave me the strength to remove myself from this situation. I will never tell anyone all that has happened (several people assume that alcoholism had something to do with it, since that was pretty obvious). I will continue to display my wedding and family photos in the house, as I consider the man I married (and shared sacred wedding vows with) has passed away. The person who lives and carries the name of my husband is no longer the person I married.

    I have told my daughters we will not speak of their father in a negative way, say nothing to those who knew him, and for the new people I may meet in the future – I will hold my head up high, and explain that I was married for almost 30 years, and then became a widow. If anyone asks what happened, I will just say it is too painful to speak about, and move on. End of story.

  21. says

    I realize you wrote this a couple of years ago but the question you pose is such a thought-provoking one I just had to put in my two cents. In my opinion divorce is worse. It never ends. It took me 10 years to really get through my divorce, and I did not come out unscarred even after all that time. If you meet someone new you constantly fear there will be the same outcome. I haven’t experienced the death of a spouse and I know it is hideous. But, it is final. You cannot change it. You cannot fix it. You just survive and go on somehow. In a divorce like mine where there were 2 kids, albeit almost grown, and the interactions of the kids with both parents keeps the relationship alive. I should have divorced many many years before I did and maybe I could have been less scarred and more unafraid.
    Divorce is hideous. If money is the problem the woman always comes out on the short end. Why is that? Because it is perceived that men have careers? Mine didn’t. He dreamed, he dilly-dallied, he talked. But, he didn’t work. I did. And, when I could see that we had finally lost everything there was no more reason to stay with him. I realized then that I could go on, make my own living, but I wouldn’t live the sumptuous lifestyle again (and that sucked!) because I had to sock every single penny away. Brilliant post, Wolfie.

  22. Diane L says

    No contest. Divorce is worse than death of a spouse.

    We all know and understand each of us are on this earth for a finite time. Although terribly sad, we all will lose loved ones, unless we die young. The death of a spouse is terribly sad, but it is part of normal endings of our relationships with loved ones. We have ceremonies to make the ending, people all know to extend their condolences, you are welcome in your place of worship to honor & memorialize your loved one forever.

    When you lose your spouse though divorce, you must mourn alone, there is no official ceremony, and for those of us who take our wedding vows seriously – marriage shall only end at “till death do us part”. If a spouse exhibits behavior that no longer allows you to stay married, you are forever left in mourning since there is NO dignified societal ending. My choice was to tell only those who absolutely need to know I am now divorced. I share my situation with very few people, as I would be extremely upset if anyone said anything other than “I am so sorry for you loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you”. I choose to take the high road, and not speak negatively of my husband (I will always consider him to be my husband, and he is still alive and the only reason I divorced him is because I want to believe he is mentally ill). His actions became so impossible to live with, I knew I needed to remove him from our home.

    When our daughters were grown, they encouraged me to get divorced, I explained to them I could be married or widowed, but NEVER divorced. They were already not speaking to their father, and explained to me that whether or not I got a divorce they would not associate with him, and if I choose to follow the dignified lifestyle of a widow, they will honor me and treat me with that level of dignity. It has now been almost 2 years. Everyday I mourn the loss of my husband and us as a family, but must do so alone, as there is no way to do this as part of our community in society.

    I have met a nice gentleman who was not responsible for his divorce, as his wife became morally corrupt. He is a good man who would have done anything to please his wife if she had not betrayed him. We are companions now, and keep each other company in this sad, difficult and isolated lifestyle.

    So without question, being a widow, although very sad, leaves a person with dignity, community, and all the normal societal options to move on in life.

    • D. A. Wolf says

      I am very sorry for what you are going through, Diane. You raise two issues that are critically important. First, the mourning process, which we allow more readily for widows/widowers than those who have divorced, and second, the issue of dignity. You’re so right that we dignify and even pay tribute to our loved ones who have passed, but there is no dignity in the termination of marriage through divorce. Instead, all too often, someone’s societal stamp of failure, and possibly our own as well.

      It has been interesting (and educational) for me to spend time these past 3 years with an older woman who is a widow. Her husband was killed in a traffic accident some 35 years ago. They were sweethearts young, married young, had children, had adventures, and loved each other deeply. She still tells stories about him, and with 30 years of life together, she has many. She also carries a profound sadness, and best I can tell, couldn’t have imagined herself remarrying.

      Through her eyes, I’ve come to both envy that depth of mutual belonging, and understand the enormity of her loss.

      If I may add – two years is still a very short time after the end of a marriage by divorce, at least in my experience. I’m glad your daughters are behind whatever you want to do 100%, and I believe that as the years pass, while you may never be “over” divorce (when you’ve shared having children with someone, I don’t find that possible, personally), you will feel more accepting of it, and of the options for you in the future.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope you will do so again.

  23. Caroline says

    I am going through a “surprise” divorce at midlife. It’s awful. HOWEVER, I don’t understand this discussion. Not only are we comparing apples to oranges, but we are lumping unique situations and people into broad categories. No two people are alike – consequently, no two marriages are alike, and frankly, half the time nobody understands a marriage including the people in it. And certainly no two deaths or divorces are alike. The word “Worse” turns this into some sort of funny grief competition. Does it matter which is “worse?” The fact is we each only live one life.

    • D. A. Wolf says

      Very valid points, Caroline. Apples to oranges in many ways, yet in both cases, marriage is terminated and usually, grief follows at least to some degree. The purpose of the comparison was not about being provocative but rather to point out how differently we usually respond to people, judging in one instance and not in the other. These are generalizations of course.

      Another reason for the discussion is to allow for expressing how death-like divorce can feel, while it is certainly not the death of a spouse. However, the losses, as in death, carry burdens (for some) that may involve complexity and turmoil — without the sort of solace extended by others that usually comes with loss of a spouse.

      I am sorry you are going through a surprise divorce. I wish you will, and thank you for your comments.


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